Lelis Bauzá Vernon | Safety, Quality, Informatics, and Leadership

Lelis Bauzá Vernon.

Lelis Bauzá Vernon is an advocate for neonatal intensive care unit patient and family-centered care, as well as a health care consultant. She serves as a clinical advisor for the Advocacy Committee Leadership Council (ACLC) at the American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine (SONPM); she is the family advisor for the California and Florida Perinatal Quality Care Collaboratives and actively participates as family representative with the Necrotizing Enterocolitis Society. Named class speaker by her peers, she graduated from the Safety, Quality, Informatics, and Leadership program at Harvard Medical School in 2022, which empowered her to articulate challenges and solutions more effectively to clinicians and policymakers.

A Journey Inspired by Personal Experience

Her advocacy for family engagement and improved health care began during her time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with the premature birth of her twin boys. Her family spent four months in the NICU, which revealed gaps in care and communication. “I saw that there was a lack of synergy between clinicians and families in the way of communication and co-designing the care plans for babies. The NICU was a life-changing experience for me, and from that time, I decided to do something about creating opportunities for improvement.” 

Vernon began her advocacy journey as the first volunteer to mentor and support families in the NICU by sharing her firsthand experience. From there, she grew a support group and got involved in quality improvement projects, representing the voice of families. 

Originally from Argentina, she had a particular sensitivity to the needs of Latino and Hispanic families, “I knew that, in order to represent all families, I would need to highlight the challenges and barriers that vulnerable populations face in health care. To address these issues, I began collaborating in projects aimed at addressing and mitigating disparities, providing valuable feedback to health care entities committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.”

To become better informed, Vernon enrolled in the Safety, Quality, Informatics, and Leadership program at Harvard Medical School. “I wanted to really explore how the safety and quality landscape looks from the clinical side so that I could better translate the needs of patients and families in my work as a health care consultant.”

Transformative Learnings

Her capstone project focused on improving communication and engagement with families in the NICU through the implementation of virtual rounding during the COVID-19 pandemic. The outcomes of her project have been shared at conferences nationwide. Through the program’s focus on clinical databases and design, she was able to reveal how patient narratives yield valuable data points essential in reshaping health care strategies. 

“One of the aspects of the program that I really loved was the emphasis on practical application. This allows you to translate theoretical knowledge into real-world scenarios,” she says. Vernon also commends the Harvard Medical School faculty for their student-centered approach, guidance and engagement beyond lectures, as well as the global network she gained from collaborating with clinicians from around the world. “The global exposure provided me with a broader perspective on health care complexities and also different lenses to approach solutions for improving quality and safety.” 

“The program has made me a more effective health care consultant. It gave me all the knowledge and tools to collaborate with clinical teams and assist them in optimizing and designing quality improvement and research methods that accurately capture the consumer's perspective.”

Championing Patient-Centric Care

Vernon highlighted that the most significant takeaway from her time in the Safety, Quality, Informatics, and Leadership program was the realization that involving patients and families in care decisions and processes isn’t just something nice to do—it’s science. 

“Family-centered care extends its impact to patient safety, patient satisfaction and the overall health care quality. So, when you talk about the pillars of health care being safety and quality, you’re talking about patient and family-centered care. And that’s the main message that I share with the different forums and entities that I work with now.” 

Vernon epitomizes a new generation of family partners who are actively engaged in reshaping the health care experience from the bedside. “I truly believe that it is through co-design and in elevating the voice of patients and families that we will be able to redesign the system and that’s why I’m still deeply involved in it.”